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YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE
To be crowned Miss America these days, a young woman must be poised, smart, talented, and lovely. But back in 1891, it surely took belief in the latest newfangled technology to land the title of Miss Electricity.
In the late 1800s, folks back East were already well acquainted with the wonders of Thomas Edison and electric light. But in many communities, especially those out West, folks were still quite wary. For example, even though the town of Independence, Oregon, had installed electricity in 1890, it was deemed only safe for outdoor lighting.
By 1891, however, an Independence opera house decided to install indoor electric lights. To allay local fears, the Electric Light Co. decided to create and crown Miss Electricity. Sixteen-year-old Lulu Miller of Newport got the job.
In her formal portrait, now displayed at Newport’s Oregon Coast History Center, Lulu Miller (Nye) seems to be, well, glowing. It could be because she’s draped in a string of light bulbs, or “incandescent lamps,” jauntily cinched at her waist. Or perhaps because she’s sporting a bevy of bulbs on the points of her crown and on her over-sized, ribbon-festooned scepter.
According to a newspaper account at the time, Miss Electricity was first introduced one evening at a trade carnival being held in the newly-wired opera house. “Miss Miller stepped forward and suddenly was enveloped in a flood of light The audience was so enthusiastic that a recall was necessary.” Lulu’s luminosity, the report continued, was made possible by, “Copper plates on the stage and in the soles of Miss Miller’s shoes [that] caused the electric current to flash through the wires concealed in the folds of her clothing. It was a beautiful sight.”